Excellence in failure

It sounds stupid, right? That there can be anything of excellence in failing. Because failure is just that, right? Failure.

But look at it this way:

If you don’t fail in anything, you don’t try anything. You never follow your curiosity to explore new things and new ways of doing new things.

Having said that there are different kinds of failure.

The bad kind is the kind of failure, where you just make the same mistakes over and over either because you don’t learn anything from it or you simply just don’t care. Don’t ever follow that path.

The good part of failure is where you take on new things, challenges, projects, dive in from the deep end without having a clear idea about how things turn out. When you fail in some or all elements, you learn what NOT to do the next time. And you build both experience and confidence in taking the leap the next time.

And that is a good thing. Because it’s when you take the leap into something new that you have the greatest opportunity for actually effecting change and creating a positive impact. And if you’re driven by that kind of thing, it’s precisely these things that will give you the feeling that you and what you do matter.

Looking at it this way, failure in itself becomes a stepping stone to learn from to get better and to succeed in the end with whatever you’re looking to succeed with. It doesn’t become something to avoid at all costs, holding both you, your team and your company back.

(Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash)

Dealing with lost outcome

A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure of helping an interesting startup in the data management and analytics space get off the ground.

Part of that was to help them pitch to early angel investors in order to get the first funding. And one of the international investors we talked to had a point that stayed with me:

“To me this just looks like data porn”.

What he meant was: A lot of numbers and statistics but very little real actionable insights that made sense to him. And which he thus doubted would ever make sense to future customers.

His point came back to haunt me when I read a statistic claiming that 80% or so of SMEs really don’t know how to capitalize on their data, while reading another place that 90% of the companies providing the data management and analytics tools at the same time think they are delivering a killer user experience that just unlocks value at the click of a button.

There is something that is disconnected here. And I have a hunch what it might be:

The ability for SMEs to identify the outcomes they’re looking for – put them into words – coupled with an inability of the providers to think in terms of outcomes rather than inputs and analytics, when they design products.

It’s like one party is from Mars, the other is from Venus. And somehow they just can’t find each other.

In all fairness, I don’t think this is only true with data management and analytics. I think it’s a more generic point across B2B products and services; that startups and vendors are so focused on developing great products based on their own merits rather than developing great products that helps future customers get to the outcomes they are looking for in the easiest and most painless way possible.

So what could a remedy for all this be?

Communication. Built-in communication. A built-in communication and story telling strategy so to say that informs how the products are structured, the user experience defined and the value being delivered to the customer in such a way that they will not for a second doubt they have chosen the right product to help them get the outcome they have set for themselves.

A lot of things are happening in parallel in product development today, and many of them are good. But I think they lack the glue of the overarching story; the keeping track of the ‘Why?’ of it all when it comes to delivering value and outcomes including all the bigger and smaller sanity checks, you should include along the way.

Great communication could be that glue.

Great communication could tie prioritization of the roadmap with the user experience, the optimized flows and how you present the product and it’s core features to products. Great communication should be the rocket fuel of the growth story as well and dictate how the product is communicated, being sold and serviced afterwards.

Because communication is not only about PR, press releases and coming up with the creatives for the next campaign. Communication should be a key component of both product, sales and company strategy.

So people like the business angel from above and the customers, he was thinking of, instinctively ‘get it’ because the story points directly towards achieving a highly valuable and desired outcome.

(Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash)

An age perspective

“You’re just too old!”

I hear it thrown around every once in a while. Not specifically at me but more as a general shoutout to voice dissatisfaction that someone simply just not ‘get it’.

But does age really have anything to do with it?

Of course not.

In fact I think quite the opposite is at play;

Using the age argument is like arguing “This time is different” about why something that was a bust in the past will be a success now or “We have the best tech” as a reason for why you’re going to win whenever you enter the market:

High risk arguments with little validity in data.

So if the “You’re too old” argument is a flawed one in itself, what can we use the difference in age for in an extended startup team?

Well, for one youth can be put to superb use – if applied with clear thought – towards something that other people might not think is possible doing. Because the big advantage to a lack of experience is that you don’t know what you’re entering into, and thus you’re more open to risk.

Just think at the warm stove the first time you touched it, because you didn’t really believe that it was too hot. You only did that once, right? And got the hard earned experience.

Youth also typically have an abundance of energy of the sort that comes with eagerness to get out in the world and do something and – for most – a basic lack of other substantial obligations (family, kids, mortgages etc).

So what does age bring to the table that could be fruitful to the young ones?

First of all experience. Not of the kind that stops great ideas in their tracks but the kind that helps the young guns avoid the most obvious pitfalls, so they can stear clear and get a cleaner path towards ultimate success. A kind of a mentor that gently guides without taking over control in any sort of way.

Second, a shoulder to cry on. Now, I do not necessarily mean that literally, although if that’s what’s needed, so be it. No, I mean it more in the sense of someone to talk to and seek support at when the going gets rough, nothing works out, the roof is falling in and you’re just generally feeling like an utter failure.

Because that’s exactly what you need at that point; someone you can went to – and be heard, respected and understood by someone who has most likely been there her-/himself.

So think of these things the next time you feel the urge to claim that people who don’t get you are just “Too old”.

(Photo by Paolo Bendandion Unsplash)

Finding the edge

The other day I heard a fascinating episode of the podcast “Pivot” with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway, where they talked with a guest about the potential in space exploration and colonizing the Moon and different planets.

In the podcast the point was made that when it comes to the Moon, every big nation wants to set up camp in pretty much the same place: Near the South Pole on the edge between the dark side of the Moon and the side that actually gets sunlight.

And why is that?

Obviously, the people who are going to be staying there, want to be in the light in order to function. But the most ressources, including the possibility for finding water, is on the dark side.

Hence you want to find the right balance of sun and darkness by being on the edge.

What kind of implication does that potentially have for startups?

One could be that in order to really be able to change things and make a profound impact, you need to be operating on the demarkation line between sun and darkness;

On the sunny side you will be able to communicate your vision and engage your customers by using arguments and value propositions that they will understand and engage with.

On the dark side you will be uncovering the differentiating way of solving your customers problems that will ultimately set you apart from the competition.

Now, what happens if you don’t find that line, that edge?

If you’re too much on the sunny side you may be able to get attention. But your offering will probably not over the long run be differentiated enough to sustain an advantage over the competition. Put in another way: You run the risk of flaming out in the sunlight.

If you’re however too much on the dark side, you run the classic risk of working on something that nobody will ever really figure out could be a solution to your problem. You will so to say be alone in the dark. Until you die (which startups doing something nobody can see the benefit of eventually do).

So think about your Moon-shot so to say and set about finding the position near the edge between light and darkness. It might take some serious experimentation to get it right, but isn’t that what any kind of exploration is really all about?

(Photo by Ganapathy Kumar on Unsplash)

Reframing “How Might We…”

In my previous agency job I spent quite a lot of time working with the Google Design Sprint methodology, and I even got to a couple of moments of fame, when I both ended up teaching the methodology at the Danish Technological Institut as well as running a sprint for Google themselves.

There were – and are – a lot of great things in the Design Sprint methodology, which when applied in the right way can really bring ideas, conversations and work in general forward.

One of them is the “How Might We…”-question. It is a very elegant way of reframing a problem into an open-ended solution mindset, you can actually use as the foundation for working on fixing that problem.

There is one issue with the question though IMHO: It is not really good at framing the context of the question being asked.

But maybe there is a simple fix for that which makes the question even more powerful to ask? And not only for Design Sprints but for general conversations about vision, strategy and “What’s next?” for our company?

What if you started your “How Might We…”-question with a statement of fact to set the context?

Like: “Since we now have a sales model that works for other peoples products, how might we best introduce our own private label offerings?”

Or: “With maturity reached in our beachhead market, how might we go after the next vertical to grow our business?”

By doing it this way, you not only provide context to the open-ended solution oriented question. You also create a strong sense of why it’s important – almost “do or die” – for you and your team to spend precious time on looking to solve the problem.

And it will eliminate time wasting from those that will always be asking “Why?” whenever you try to introduce a new important project and leaving them with no or at least very little opt-out from stepping forward to help in coming up with the future solutions.

Essentially it underscores the “We” part of this collaborative proces. Which I think is key to the exercise and – done this way – a significant booster to get you set for a concerted, co-operative effort.

(Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash)

Vision needs strategy

Most startups are founded on a vision; a wish to help bring about change to something in the world. But many lack a coherent strategy of how to get there in the end.

How come? The difference is in the meaning of the various words.

A vision is like a desert mirage. It’s aspirational, something we can imagine but is not real – yet.

A strategy is a plan to find the waterhole in the desert, so to say. It doesn’t have to be a complex plan with a lot of moving parts, but it needs to be a plan that can – if nothing else – convince people that not only might you be on to something. You actually also have some kind of idea of how to capture it.

Many startups frown at the word ‘strategy’ and doing strategy work is a pretty long way down the list of priorities. But while it’s true that execution is key and should take precedence over ‘thought’-work, they still need to set aside time to develop the plan.

Otherwise how are they ever going to make it to the fulfillment of the vision?

By luck? By endless trial-and-error?

Of course not. So get the strategy that supports the vision in place. Make it flexible based on what you learn on the journey, but nevertheless utilize it as a map to get to the destination, you’re longing for.

(Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash)

A challenge of a generation

Aside from climate change one of the most daunting trends facing us in the Western world is the thought that for the first time in generations, there is every chance that our kids are NOT going to be better off than we were compared to our parents and the generations before that.

In the US, which has always been the land of hope, dreams and opportunity, this has long tilted, and it is happening in Europe too (article in Danish) with the Mediterranean countries ‘leading’ the pack; growing economic wealth and prosperity as a function of time is by no means a given anymore.

As if that is not bad enough in itself, we’re at the same time filling our kids and youth with the exact opposite story: Everything is available for you, you choose, and your choices are (almost) free – except the luxury items and experiences you can also get and which you can get due to costs saved in other places and the access to cheap capital.

So in reality you could argue that our youth is living a lie, we helped them create, and that one day they will wake up to a staggering bill. When that happens, and consequences need to be reaped, there is no telling what will happen.

Now, this is not a doom’n’gloom piece even though I admit it looks like one. It is – as most of my other writings – a piece about opportunity for creative visionaries to take stock of the problem, go back and figure out how we’re going to solve one of the biggest generational challenges, we have probably ever faced.

I will admit I don’t have the answers. If I did I would probably be busy trying to set the right things in motion. But what I do know is that the opportunity is there for people with products and services that look to galvanize our youth and limit the future impact of the trajectory we’re seeing.

It could be in terms of new kinds of savings products. It could be about education ensuring an ability to ride the development and be presented with new opportunities. It could be about simple living and making that into ‘cool’ living. The list of opportunities are endless.

And there will be a huge need and market for it, once reality hits. An excellent way for the right people to combine a very strong purpose with a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity.

(Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)

Time your own luck – now

Getting a business off the ground of course has a lot to do with the idea and what pain you’re looking to solve for customers. But it is also about timing and luck.

Some people say that you can make your own luck. And perhaps that is true. To an extend.

What you certainly can do is look around you at what’s going on. And if you look at the world right now, there are at least 3 good reasons, as I see them, why this might be a great moment to time your luck so to say and venture into something new.

First of all, a lot of incumbents in different industries are busy elsewhere handling the fallout from the pandemic with disrupted supply chains, increasing prices on goods, lack of talent etc. They’re way to busy with that to innovate in earnest themselves let alone keep a keen eye on what you’re doing.

Second, there are a lot of change afoot after the pandemic. New trends have emerged, new patterns of behaviour – some of which we still need to see the resilience of after the pandemic eases, mind you – have got on the radar etc. And with that new pains, needs and demand for new, innovative solutions that you might be able to provide.

And third, there is the work-from-home thing. While some people yearn to get back to normal office life, there are also millions of people out there who feel the opposite. They are ready for a change. Maybe even for a move into entrepreneurship. So when I said above that incumbents might have a hard time finding the right talent, it could be an entirely different matter for you.

So what are you waiting for?

(Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash)